September in Europe, Part 2

I arrived at Stockholm’s central station in the capital on time, and walked a mile to the Stockholm School of Economics for my 12th visit.  I arranged to meet my host Per Andersson at 11:45, so had plenty of time.  A friendly Ph.D. student let me into the offices, and in no time I was at work.  The place was familiar, so I knew the location of the (free) coffee machine and other essentials.  Per arrived early, and we peeled off for lunch at a buffet place a block away (also familiar).  As we left the building, I asked about the scaffolds on the façade, and among other things learned that the structure had historic and protected status, because the Nobel prizewinning economist Gunnar Myrdal had worked in the very corridor where Per officed.

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Doors to Stockholm’s Adolf Fredrik Church (1774), well familiar to me, were locked, so the florists left the funeral bouquets on the step

We zipped back from lunch, then into the main SSE building for a graduate-level lecture on airlines and Big Data.  Yakked with a couple of students after class, walked back to the offices, changed into jeans, and said goodbye.  Then headed (in rain, as usual) a mile south to the stop for the airport bus.  Flew on Swiss to Zurich, flight slightly late (very un-Swiss), and dashed across the airport for a connecting flight to Geneva; I was bound for a quick visit with a former student, Fabio Scappaticci, and his family.  Made the flight, and to my great delight, my luggage did, too.  Met Fabio in the bag claim, hugs.  The original plan was to stay at his house, but his parents, from Montreal, were visiting on short notice, so he dropped me at a simple motel five minutes from his place.  It was 12:45 AM, and I was totally drained.  Zzzzz.

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For the Transport Geeks: my first ride in a Made-in-Canada Bombardier CSeries

Woke up at eight, unheard of, showered, and met Fabio at nine.  Headed to the bakery in his village of Prevéssin-Moëns for breakfast breads, then home to meet parents Daniella and Angelo, wife Lisa, and sons Luca (5) and Leo (2.5).  We hit it off immediately, falling into friendly banter about families, work, kids, life.  Then we all piled into two cars and headed into the next town, Ferney-Voltaire, where the latter author and philosopher lived from 1759 until his death in 1778.  The entire center of town was closed to traffic and open to a vast weekly food market.  Visiting a place like that is clear evidence of how deeply the French care about food.  Produce, meat, cheese, and more, endless varieties, conventional and increasingly organic.  We bought fruits and vegetables, cheese, more bread, and lunch (to eat at home) from a tiny stall selling Vietnamese take-away.  Ambled to the Carrefour supermarket for sausages to barbecue for dinner, then home.  It was a glorious day, sunny and warm – so welcome after a week of gloom – and we ate lunch in the backyard, with a fine view of the low Jura Mountains to the north.  It was naptime for Luca and Leo, and I joined them for an hour.

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Ordinary Saturday life in France: at the bakery and the open-air market

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Produce, perfect (left) and not-so-much — but the French have begun to embrace the imperfect edible rather than waste it.

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City Hall (Mairie), in Ferney-Voltaire

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Leo and Luca with a bowling-ball-like watermelon

Refreshed, I fell back into conversation with Angelo and Daniella, who emigrated with their parents from south of Rome to Montreal in the 1960s.  His was a classic Canadian success story.  In the 1970s he hired on with Hydro-Quebec, the provincial power utility, that was building enormous waterpower projects at James Bay in northern Quebec.  Three months on, one week off, 60-hour workweek guaranteed, and Angelo saved enough money to open a Dunkin Donuts franchise, then two, then three.  He sold the last one in 2006, and since has worked hourly jobs at Costco and elsewhere to stay busy.  They had two sons, both university graduates.  A nice story.

Angelo and I took a long walk around the village, a very pleasant, leafy place.  We tucked into a nice meal, again outside, just as the dusk colors were at their best.  Lisa and Fabio put the kids to bed, we ate some French-style apple pie, and after hugs and kisses Fabio drove me back to the motel.

That Saturday was the kind of travel experience that I have enjoyed for decades and have recommended often: to experience life, family life, in another part of the world is extraordinary for its simplicity.  To see a kitchen; to help with chores, to hug kids and carry them around a backyard on shoulders, to walk the neighborhood.  To quote Voltaire, it was “the best of all possible worlds.”

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The agreeable view from Fabio’s and Lisa’s backyard (L), and their street

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Sunset from the backyard; the end of a splendid day.

Was up at a normal time Sunday morning, two cups of motel-room instant coffee, and out the door, walking a kilometer to the city hall in Ferney-Voltaire.  On the way, I passed the city park, where the day before, on the north end, I noticed some phrases that appeared to be from Voltaire’s pen, printed on steel and inserted into the concrete. And there were some on the south side, too:

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Top: “The mouth obeys evil when the heart whispers”

A little more about Voltaire and the town: in 1755, he was “on the run,” having angered both Frederick the Great of Prussia and King Louis XV in his native France, so he settled in Geneva and bought an estate.  But then one of his new writings angered the locals, so he hopped across the border and bought an estate in Ferney.  He was not only a writer, but helped establish pottery and watchmaking industries in his new home, as well as theatre, which was banned in Geneva.  Quite a fellow.  As I have written here before, my fave Voltaire quotation is “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Hopped on the bus for a 12-minute ride to Geneva Airport.  Time for breakfast; I remembered from a visit in 2013 that there was a Migros supermarket in the airport train station, so made fast for a store I’ve known since my first visit to Switzerland in 1972.  As I’ve written many times, visiting a grocery is another one of those simple and rewarding overseas moments.  Bought yogurt, a banana, a yeasted raisin roll, and a mango smoothie, and enjoyed a picnic breakfast on platform 2.  The train to St. Gallen and the fifth university on the trip departed in an hour, so I hopped another for the short ride into downtown Geneva.  True to my zeal for cramming as much as possible into a day, I rolled my suitcase a few blocks to the lake, Lac Leman, then back.  Hopped on the 9:42 direct to St. Gallen.

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Swiss Federal Railways’ mobile-phone charging station: you pedal, you recharge

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Glimpses of Geneva on the 10-minute walk to the lake

I was looking forward to a four-hour ride across Switzerland, and it did not disappoint.  As we headed to Lausanne, to my left were vineyards marching up gentle slopes, and to the right glimpses of the lake and the backbone of the Alps, including Mont Blanc.  Eastward, and plenty of interesting scenes: farmers harvesting maize (corn), hundreds of grazing cattle, and lots of bicyclists out on a sunny day.

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It’s hard to get a good pic from a moving train; this is as good as it gets, in mobile photography and in Swiss scenery!

After checking into the hotel in St. Gallen, changing clothes, and eating a $17 Subway footlong (welcome to Switzerland!), I joined the cyclists, climbing 900 feet, whew, out of St. Gallen to the picturesque villages of Speicher and Trogen.  The original plan was to continue on to Altstätten, but when I got to a little fork in the road called Oberegg I could see my destination, only about 5 miles away but almost 2000 feet below.  Sure, the ride there would have been fun, but I just did not see an upward slog, so I snapped some pictures of the Rhine Valley, and turned around.  It didn’t take long to get back, down that long slope back into town.  It was a perfect ride, the whole rural Swiss experience (to me, best seen on a bicycle): the melody of tinkling bells around cows, sheep, and goats; traditional architecture; a mix of broadleaf and pine forest, rushing streams.  No yodeling, but you could imagine it!  Took a short nap, and at dusk headed a few blocks east to a new restaurant in town, run by young people, for a beer and a bratwurst.  Scenes from a good day:

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Up early Monday morning, out the door, up another, smaller hill (only 300 feet of rise) to the University of St. Gallen and my 17th appearance since 2000.   From 10:30 to noon delivered a talk on airline revenue management to undergrads, then grabbed a quick lunch in the Mensa (student cafeteria) with morning host Sven Reinecke.  Rode down the hill, and from 1:45 to 3:15 spoke to Prof. Winfried Ruigrok’s full-time MBA class.  A great group: diverse, engaged, enthused.  Just a pleasure.  Rode back to the hotel, changed clothes, and did some work.  As I did the year before, at 6:30, met Paul and Hananja Brice at a fondue restaurant for a fun meal and lots of great conversation – kids, UK and U.S. politics, Swiss prices, and more.  I first met Paul when he was chaplain of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and we’ve stayed in touch.  He’s now pastor of the Anglican church in Zürich.

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Swiss Made: a bike rack and a service truck for waterless urinals; as I’ve noted, despite high labor costs, the Swiss still make lots of stuff, and they buy it — no need for tariffs when cultural values are so strong.  I’m sure Chicago-school economists scoff, but the model is to me admirable.

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The view from my classroom

Out the door Tuesday morning for a quick eight-mile bike ride (on mostly flat terrain), then suited up.  On the way up to the university, I stopped as I always do at the wildly Baroque abbey church of St. Gallen.  A good place for morning prayers, and for whispering a few words to the wonderful carved angel on the ceiling, who has been a friend and touchstone for almost 20 years.  Worked the morning in the library, and at 1:00 met Winfried and his assistant Georg Guttman, who has been my host for many years (he is also the bicycle lender; what a champ!).  Hewing to tradition, we met at Wienerberg, an old-school café adjacent to the campus.  It was a warm, sunny day, and we ate outdoors, catching up on changes since September 2016.

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The old town (Altstadt) in St. Gallen, and one of the many angels in the Baroque abbey church

Back to the library to work a few hours, then from 4:30 to 6:00 delivered a lecture to the school’s #1-in-the-world Masters in International Management and Strategy.  The kids were young (most right into the program after getting their first degrees), but motivated.  Stayed 20 minutes more outside the classroom answering questions, then walked to the bike.  It had rained briefly during the lecture, but, happily, it had stopped (my raincoat was back at the hotel).  Rode down the hill on wet streets, careful on the curves, and was home in no time.  Changed clothes, worked my email, and walked two blocks to the Coop supermarket in the train station for a salad, rolls, and a beer (after a big lunch I didn’t need much).  Was asleep by 9:15 . . .

Up at 5:15, out the door and onto the 6:00 train “down the hill” to Konstanz, on what Germans call Bodensee and we call Lake Constance.  Changed trains there, and at Singen, then Horb, then Tübingen, finally arriving in my destination, Reutlingen at 9:50.  It took nearly four hours to travel only about 140 miles, because there are no direct routes.  But the ride was pleasant.  Once the sun rose, fall colors were at their best, the landforms interesting (ridges and curious “bumps” that rose a few hundred feet out of a flat plain).  For awhile we were in the Black Forest, deep green, and it felt like Hansel and Gretel were at hand.

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The bridge to heaven?  No, a span on Highway 81 over the Neckar Valley, near Horb, Germany

At the station, I hopped on a city bus for a short ride up the hill to the ESB Business School of Reutlingen University and my fifth visit in two years (I normally walk, but I didn’t have luggage on previous visits).  Made fast for the Mensa, drank two strong coffees, and at 11:30 delivered a lecture to Oliver Götz’s undergraduate marketing class.  The talk went well.  At the start of Q&A, Oliver asked about what American Airlines did after 9/11 to rebuild.  I answered.  After class, a student approached to tell me that he thought it the tragedies were a conspiracy.  “You mean, engineered by the U.S. Government?” I asked.  “Yes,” he replied.  I wanted to slap him, but instead lit into him verbally.  I don’t think a student had ever made me as angry.

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Reutlingen University

Oliver and I headed to the Mensa for lunch and a good yak, then back to his office, and I peeled off, back on the bus to downtown.  My last night in Europe was another Airbnb, advertised as a “micro-apartment” in the old town, and it was.  Host Marcus met me right on time, handed me the key, and peeled off.  Took a quick nap, worked for a few hours, then went out for a walk on a lovely warm afternoon.  At six I ambled into a fave place, Barfüsser, a microbrewery and restaurant for a couple of beers and a totally enormous plate of roast pork, dumpling, and kraut salad.  Yum.

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In the Airbnb micro-apartment: I thought it was just a cabinet for clothes, then opened the door!

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Scenes from my neighborhood in Reutlingen

Back to the micro, a bit of work, a few pages of a gripping new novel, and lights out.  Up early again, 5:30, out the door, onto a train for Stuttgart, a connecting fast one to Frankfurt Airport, and a flight to Philadelphia then home to Washington.

It would be hard to cram more into 92 days of a quarter!

 

 

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September in Europe, Part 1

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Aachen, Germany, first stop

The “fall semester” started on Wednesday, September 15, Metro to National Airport, short hop up to Philadelphia, and a big Silver Bird across the ocean to Frankfurt.  Arrived after breakfast, waited a couple of hours, and at 10:45 hopped on the fast ICE train north.  As I always do on arrival in a country I greatly admire, I cued their national anthem, “Deutschlandleid,” then closed my mind and conjured images of the place in spring 1945: flattened, broke, hungry.  And within a decade, cities were rebuilt, there was money in the bank, and food and drink were in ample supply.  That is about will, a trait that exists in abundance in Germany.  It is that will that built the train that propelled me to Cologne at 180 mph.  The train turned west toward the border with Belgium and The Netherlands, and I hopped off in Aachen, a city best known as the seat of King Charlemagne in the 9th Century.

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Aachen Cathedral (above and below)

 

 

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Weather was poor: periodic showers and howling wind, but I stowed my suitcase and backpack contents in a locker in the train station, zipped up my Gore-Tex raincoat, and headed out, a short walk through a townscape immediately appealing, with a nice mix of contemporary and old buildings, a pleasant scale, and lots of sculpture on the street.  First stop was the spectacular cathedral, begun in the 8th Century and modified through the years.  Wandered the old town a bit, zipped into a supermarket for lunch fixings, and enjoyed the repast until another shower arrived.  Next stop was the town hall, Rathaus, begun 1330 and finished two decades later.  The public rooms were spectacular, and on the top floor a cavernous coronation hall, site of many royal banquets through the years.  It was still howling and pouring outside, so I spent a good while in the various rooms, many done in Baroque style.  Stop three was Elisenbrunnen, one of the original thermal springs.  Despite the signs that read in German “Do not drink the water,” everyone who stopped took a handful, so I did too, slightly hot and highly mineralized.

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Bakery window (gingerbread is a local specialty) and Charlemagne’s seal in the pavement

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Aachen Town Hall (Rathaus), above and below, the red and white rooms, and the banquet hall

 

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Lots of public art, mostly sculpture, in town

 

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Not everything was old in Aachen!

Ambled back to the train station and still had more than an hour, so found a place to sit and read a bit.  Hopped on the fast train back to Cologne and then a completely packed local train north to Düsseldorf, my destination.  It was like the Tokyo Metro, and I was happy to get off, then onto a subway to my hotel.  Checked in and took a tonic shower.  I knew the neighborhood, just southeast of downtown, from a visit in late 2016, so made fast for Uerige am Markt, a cozy restaurant.  The local brew, Altbier, comes in small glasses, and I enjoyed a few along with an enormous plate of pork, roasted potatoes, and green beans.  Vast.  Slept hard.

Up at 6:45 Friday morning, to the hotel gym, then breakfast.  Spent the morning doing some consulting work.  At 11:45 I walked a block to a station of the local bikeshare system, Nextbike.  Their iPhone app was balky, but I got it figured out, unlocked bike 04445, and pedaled up Kölnerstrasse, then north toward Altstadt, the old town.  Parked the bike, locked it, done.

While waiting for local friends to arrive, I sat down on a bench on Ratinger Strasse.  An octogenarian woman with a large smile wheeled her walker into the Füchschen brewery for lunch. She was a perfect vignette of social democracy: taking care of the elderly so that they might live in dignity with enough.  A few minutes later, a brief  T-t-S with dog owners.  The dog paused in front of me, so of course I nuzzled her face, then told the owners about missing our terriers when I travel.  So they turned back around to let me cuddle a bit more.

At 12:30 I met Tobias Hundhausen (who I first met in Dallas in the late 1990s), his wife Sarah (who I had not met prior), and their seven-week-old son Tillmann.  Linda had knitted a blanket for young Till, and parents were happy to have it.  We had a delightful lunch at Füchschen, one of the many small brewers that make Altbier. Tucked into a splendid lunch and great conversation about Toby’s new job, Sarah’s travails during pregnancy, and the other stuff that close friends discuss.  Lots of fun.  Rode the Nextbike home, took a nap, suited up, and set off for WHU, the private German business school I’ve visited most years since 2000.

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Till Hundhausen, seven weeks

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Central Düsseldorf, leafy and pleasant

I spotted a shortcut on the map, and in no time was walking down Kiefernstrasse, which had a very Bohemian feel: graffiti all over, old wagons like the ones Roma people use, lefty-looking people on the street.  When I arrived at WHU a few minutes later, I Googled the street name, then to Wikipedia: “Kiefernstraße is a street in the Flingern-Süd district of Düsseldorf that became notorious in the 1980s for squatting. In the mid-1980s there were connections to the Baader–Meinhof [Terrorist] Gang.”  Whoa!

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On Kiefernstrasse: bright facades and political graffiti

From 5:15 to 6:15 I delivered a career-advice talk to 30 brand-new full-time MBA students, a very international group.  Only six were from Germany; the others were from China, India, Taiwan, Colombia, Venezuela, Canada, USA, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Finland (he was impressed I knew Sisu, a distinctive Finnish word that roughly means perseverance, something Finns have needed during the many years that neighbors ran roughshod over their land).  I stayed around for 30 minutes or so, chatting one-on-one with students.  A young Chinese entrepreneur invited me to go into business with him!  I politely declined.

Walked back to the hotel, naturally via Kiefernstrasse, smiling at the young people who stared at the old man in suit and tie.  Changed clothes, hopped on the U-Bahn, and in no time was on a stool at Schumacher, another Altbier producer.  Had a nice T-t-S with a German bicycle enthusiast (we two-wheel geeks each had pictures of our bikes on our phones!).  Tucked into a plate of roast blutwurst, fried onions, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes, German soul food for sure.  The biker, whose name I did not catch, was by that time chatting with three folks at the other end of the table.  Germany could well be a land of T-t-S, especially in drinking places.  Slept hard, again.

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German elections were a week ahead, and posters were everywhere.  Mrs. Merkel’s simple message: “Successful for Germany.”

On the gym bike before seven, rode a bit further, then after breakfast went back out on a bikeshare cycle for 15 miles through town.  High point was the pleasant and very affluent Oberkassel neighborhood across the Rhine River from downtown.  Returned home via the state (North Rhine-Westphalia) parliament buildings, then a new district upstream on former port land.  Took a short nap, walked to a nearby supermarket for sandwiches, then suited up for a late-Saturday-afternoon talk on leadership at WHU.  Students were from the weekend MBA program, so nearly all of them were German.  Great group, good questions, nice round of applause.  Despite a whole day of blue skies, it was raining steadily, which made for a fast but soggy walk back to the hotel.

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Oberkassel

 

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The redeveloping inner harbor (connected to the Rhine)

Changed clothes and hopped on the U-Bahn.  I noticed a transit ad above the windows, noting the emergency phone numbers for Düsseldorf.  In another vignette of social democracy, I counted nine separate lines – of course the equivalent of 911 in the U.S., as well as for abused spouses, abused children, missing persons, victims of anti-gay violence, and more.  Got off at the edge of the old town, and walked a block west to beer at zum Schlüssel, another of the small brewery-restaurant combinations.  Saturday night and the place was hopping, but I found a standing-room-only counter strategically 10 feet from the oak kegs.  German pro soccer (Bundesliga) was on the big-screen TVs above the bar, and I got to see a nearby team Mönchengladbach tie the score with Leipzig.  Had a nice T-t-S with a German fellow, which headed quickly toward the new President of the U.S.  “We are afraid,” he said.  “So am I.” The yak turned toward the Bad Old Days of the Cold War, and he told me he grew up in Lower Saxony only six miles from the heavily armed border with East Germany.  More, he said, the Berlin Wall came down on his birthday, November 11.  “Ein schönes geschenk,” (a nice gift) I said, and he smiled.  One of the servers, Guido, greeted the elderly couple next to me like old friends.  As noted above, German drinking places are social places.

My server, Wolfgang, was efficient (he even had an old-fashioned coin dispenser around his waist), and brought fresh beer (small glasses, drained quickly).  I asked him in German if I could eat standing up, he replied yes, so I ordered another German favorite, cold herring in cream sauce, with onions and pickles (in that case from the famous picklemakers of the Spreewald south of Berlin), plus a huge mound of fried potatoes.  So good.  Headed back to the hotel and clocked out.

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Up at 6:30, back to the gym, then packed up, and headed to breakfast.  That hotel, the NH City (a Dutch chain) serves an awesome morning meal, and because I was traveling that day, I tucked into a lot of food.  Another nice, if brief, T-t-S with two guys my age, half in German and half in English.  They were from near Hamburg, and were eight longtime friends who gathered regularly to play cards.  “Ah,” I replied, “you’re on a boys’ trip.”  And they laughed, happy to learn an English idiom.

Checked out, hopped the U-Bahn to the main station, then a local train to Cologne.  I had a 20-minute connection, so ambled out the south entrance to gaze up at the enormous Dom, the cathedral begun in 1248 and not truly finished until 1880.  First seen more than four decades earlier, it always has the power to put humans in perspective.  We are small.  Took a short ride to Cologne/Bonn Airport, and flew to Stockholm, headed for five days of teaching in Sweden.   We descended through cloud, and below was the pleasant rural Swedish landscape: mixed hardwood and evergreen forest, pastures, lakes, and red barns with red tile roofs.

Changed planes and flew 300 miles north to Umeå, a place familiar from 22 previous visits to the university there. Landed about seven, hopped on a bus into town, and checked into a comfortable hotel, the Uman, where we’ve stayed for years.  The receptionist had the key to the bike that the Umeå School of Business and Economics makes available to me most years.  It was time for a quick sauna.  It was seriously hot, north of 200° F., so it only took about 25 minutes to work up a big sweat.   Showered, dressed, and grabbed a light dinner in the hotel – they serve a free evening meal, one of the things we’ve enjoyed through the years.

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Descending toward Umeå

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In the sauna

Was up at first light Monday morning, onto the bike, 15 miles, including a nice ride around Bölesholmarna, a small island in the Umeå River, and (as it says on my blog homepage) one of  my favorite places on earth.  Even on a gloomy day it was lovely, birch and pine trees, autumn color.  I looked for our terrier Henry’s cousin, Keso, who I had seen on previous rides on the island, but he wasn’t out with his keepers (Little aside: in previous dispatches from Umeå I spelled his name Queso, like the Mexican word for cheese; but the K spelling is right: Keso is a Swedish cottage cheese brand, which makes sense since both the food and West Highland terriers are white!).

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Umeå from across the river in Teg

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On Bölesholmarna

Showered, suited up, and pedaled up the hill to the university.  At 9:30, met Prof. Chris Nicol, and delivered a talk on airline alliances.  Ate a quick lunch with his teaching assistant, Angelos Kostis, a really good guy with similar views on a range of subjects.  From one to three delivered a talk to a big group, about 100, all grad students, a case study on airline strategy, first time to present it.  Whew.  Was plumb wore out.  Rode down the hill, coasting in light rain, then took a needed nap.

At six I pedaled four miles downriver for dinner with Nils and Carolina Paulsson, their kids Johan (13), Petter (11), and Olle (8), and dogs Egil and Elton (German pointer and Engish spaniel).  They are like family, so I was immediately at home.  We got caught up on things since the previous September: the weekend house near the coast that Nils and Carolina built themselves (they also built the home where we sat); the kids musical interests; and lots more.  Tucked into a delicious dinner of Icelandic haddock, along with potatoes and vegetables from their garden.  After dinner, Johan and Petter played violin for me, and we enjoyed an awesome homemade apple cake.  Hugged everyone and walked outside into steady rain.  The ride back to town was wet and dark, and even cycling slowly I left the unpaved trail a couple of times.  Oops.  Happily, the rain tapered off, then stopped as I got close to the hotel, so I opted to ride over to Lotta’s, a bar and microbrewery, for a homemade beer.  That I recognized the bartender from previous visits was pretty good indication that I feel like a local in Umeå!

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Top: fall scenes along the river, enroute to the Paulssons; above, Johann and Petter performing, and Elton helping with the pre-wash dishwasher cycle.

Up early and out on the bike again, then up the hill to the (nearly) annual meeting of the school’s International Advisory Board.   When I walked into the meeting room, called Samvetet, I thought of the many times I had been there, but I especially thought of when I entered the room about 2 PM on Friday, September 14, 2001, just three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  On these pages I wrote:

The International Advisory Board was just finishing their coffee break, and when they reconvened I was introduced.  The group applauded my persistence given the circumstances.  The new B-school dean, Anders Söderholm, asked me to say a few words of introduction, and I simply repeated my view that not to come would be to yield to the terrorists.  More applause.  I sat down.

I was the first board member to arrive, and had a nice chat with the (relatively) new dean, Sofia Lundberg.  Small talk focused on the weather: the whole summer had been cold and wet; “I didn’t even put away my winter clothes,” she complained.   Two new board members arrived, Emma, a Ph.D. from the school, now working as an economist for Amazon in Seattle; and Stewart, an English sociologist turned business prof, now in Sydney.  It was a good day, with updates on various aspects of the school’s progress.  Looking back over the nearly 20 years of board service, they’ve made a lot of advances.  Rode the bike down the hill.  At 6:45, we ambled to dinner at a Köksbaren, a “new Scandinavian cuisine” place a few blocks from the hotel.  First course was chunky, country-style bacon, oysters, and homemade potato chips, and the main course was one of my Swedish faves, Arctic char.

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Breakfast at the Uman: herring (every day!) and waffles

The weather was consistently bad, but I was determined to get some exercise, so I went out Wednesday morning in a raincoat for nine miles on the bike.  At nine, joined a joint “strategy day” with two school advisory boards and the larger board of directors.  I knew a lot of the people, which was proof of my many visits.  Candidly, was irregular in quality, and I was glad to peel off at two for a talk to students.  It was time again for another “Drink and Learn” at the E-Pub, which is run by the school’s student association, HHUS.  Drat, the back tire on the bike was flat, so I ambled a few blocks to the bus for a seven-minute ride up the hill.  Delivered a talk in the pub, good dialogue and questions, then hopped the bus back downtown for dinner with the group.  Had a nice chat with a retired PriceWaterhouseCoopers exec and a prof from the school.

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Was up seriously early Thursday morning, out the door to the bus and the airport and a 7:25 flight south to Stockholm.  Had a nice chat at the airport with Angelos, the Greek Ph.D. student I met two days earlier, and a Romanian post-doc.  Angelos was headed home to Thessaloniki for a long weekend, and the other guy was headed to a Cloud-computing conference in Silicon Valley.  I collected my suitcase and walked across the airport to the train station, where I donned a necktie and changed into dress shoes.  A couple minutes later a woman with a T-shirt that read “Keep Minnesota Green,” ambled toward me.  Naturally that started a fine T-t-S.  Kim was indeed from my native state, headed north to Dalarna for a funeral of a cousin two generations older.  Through the years she had been back to the land her grandfather left in 1905, and in fact had bought the ancestral home a few years earlier.  It was a fascinating chat, and a nice marker of the value of the jet plane: Kim owns a second home more than 4,000 miles from her first!

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Changing on the fly!

Hopped on the train, gliding 18 miles north to Uppsala, a historic town: seat of kings and of the Swedish (Lutheran) Church, and home of one of the first universities in Scandinavia, 1477.  It was my 8th visit there, and I knew my way from station to business school.  Worked my email and other stuff for an hour, and just before noon met Kim Larsson, a honcho with Ekonomerna, the student business association.  Delivered a talk on crisis management to a full house.  Said goodbye to Kim and tucked into a much-needed lunch, haddock and potatoes, in the student cafeteria.  Worked a bit more, and from four to six gave another talk.

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On the previous two visits to Uppsala I stayed with friends Hans and Mia Kjellberg, but Hans was traveling, so I booked an astonishingly cheap ($33) Airbnb room less than two blocks from school. My host was out for dinner, and hid the key.  In no time was changed into jeans and out the door, into the center for a beer and dinner.  Swedish food is swell, but I needed some spice, so found a serviceable Thai place for a green curry with tofu.  As I was tucking in, an email arrived from a client, asking for some urgent work, so I paid the bill and walked briskly back to Skolgatan 1. My Airbnb host, Dr. Olle Svenson, had returned, and we had a nice chat – he was a professor of electrical engineering, and a musician.  I would have liked to yak some more, but needed to get my homework done and sent across the Atlantic.  It was a long day, and I was asleep by 9:30.

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Uppsala Cathedral above the Fyris River, and Linneaus’ garden

Up early Friday morning, out the door, down the hill to the train station.  I passed the old house and garden of one of Uppsala’s most famous scholars, Carl Linneaus (the fellow that gave us the taxonomic system for flora and fauna), who lived there from 1743 until his death in 1788; he cultivated more than 3,000 plant species, making it one of the largest botanic gardens in Europe.  Cool!  The Swedish newsagent chain Presbyrån has complete breakfast fixings to take away, so I grabbed a cinnamon bun, yogurt, banana, and a large coffee, and ambled up to track 7.  Ate in a platform waiting room, then hopped on the 8:06 train into Stockholm, 35 miles south.  The SJ (Swedish State Railways) regional train was quite new, and really comfy – when I boarded, I asked a fellow traveler if we were in First Class.  Free wi-fi, nice seats, spotlessly clean, I wished I were travelling farther.

Continued in Part 2

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To the Heart of Texas and Goat

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World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off Judges Paul McCallum and Alfonse Dotson

By long tradition – back 27 years to 1991 – summer’s last trip was over Labor Day weekend, down to Brady, Texas, to be a judge in the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off.  Hopped the Metro to National Airport, flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, and rendezvous with son Jack, who has also been judging, nearly a decade now.  We picked up the rental car and zipped west to Fort Worth and the venerable Paris Coffee Shop, just south of downtown.  It’s old-time Foat Wuth at its best, with waitresses who call you Hon or Sweetie.  They’re also known for homemade pies (pronounced more like “pah” in the Lone Star State), but we opted for treats at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas, about 120 miles west.  We arrived in Brady at 4:15, time for some exercise before dinner at Fat Boys’ BBQ, wonderful turkey breast and a big ol’ jalapeño sausage link, plus beans, Cole slaw, and wot brayud (you can figure that out!).  Back to the hotel room, watch some football, and clock out early.

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Lake Lewisville, north of Dallas; North Texas was blessed with good summer rainfall, and these reservoirs were full.  The right amount.

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Still life, Paris Coffee Shop; in Texas, it’s important to have plenty of spicy condiments at the table

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Your scribe, southwest of Comanche, Texas

Up at 5:30, down to the gym on the fitness bike, showered up, and off to the judges’ brunch.  We normally convene in Melvin, Texas, 18 miles west of Brady, but this time we were set up at Jacoby’s Railyard.  The Jacoby family in Melvin are clever people, rural visionaries, and they have built a good business milling grain, and now playing a part in logistics.  There’s a small branch line that runs 67 miles from the mainline of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to the east, and the Jacobys essentially run the town freight yard.  Jason Jacoby explained it all as we entered the building.  It was good to be back with a fine and familiar bunch of good ole boys.  We tucked into a filling brunch, were formally introduced (my long tenure got me promoted to senior judge in 2016), and got our (by now familiar) marching orders.

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At Jacoby’s Railyard

Drove to the cook-off venue, Richards Park, and strolled around the grounds for a couple of hours, yakking with cookers, fellow judges, and strangers.  Some years back, the local chamber of commerce, which organizes the event, added “Mystery Meat” judging, and at two we started on pork ribs, which we generally excellent.   Senior judges sample and rate two types of entrants, Super Bowl (open only to first-place finishers in any of the prior 43 years), and the current-year competition.  There were nine SB entries, and we ranked those in short order, then waited for the 200 current entries to winnow down to the best 18.  It’s hard work, made easier with cold beer and a lot of good-natured ribbing.

Toward the end of the judging, a nice T-t-S moment with an older Mexican fellow, who with his family had driven five hours from Muleshoe, Texas (northwest of Lubbock in the Panhandle) to the event, their first visit.  “We don’t know nothing,” he said, so I gave him a quick overview of the cook-off, then handed him two foam containers of already-judged goat, adding “don’t tell anyone about this.”  Without missing a beat, he reprised: “We don’t know nothing.”  Each year, the cook-off becomes yet more diverse, and that makes your correspondent hopeful.  E pluribus unum, y’all.

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The Waco Boys, perennial entrants, with solid branding!

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Your scribe with royalty: Miss Heart of Texas; once upon a time, they were all Anglos, and we celebrate the evolution!

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Judges assessing entrants in the competition for best cooking rig

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Paul, captain of the Goat Willies team from Brownwood, Texas, and veteran judge Eddie Sandoval, my favorite Hispanic Apache!  Paul told me his cooking team has, over the years, raised $160,000 for charities in his hometown

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Goat Willies’ entry; Paul was concerned about too much heat, and was dampening the fire

The cook-off is, like the Minnesota State Fair the week before, one of those serial experiences that give comfort, and it was so wonderful to be back in Texas in general and small-town Texas in particular.  I noted above that Minnesota will always be Home, but Texas runs a close second.

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The first-place winners in pork ribs (left), and the main event, goat.  Yum!

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Senior judges Terry Keltz, Eddie Sandoval, Jerry Marshall, Gary Brown, and Kim King

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Cupla more good ole boys.  Yessir!

The judging over, Jack and I hopped in the car, retracing the route (including a stop at the DQ in Comanche), and were back in DFW by 8:15.  Dropped him at his pal Lawson’s house in North Dallas, then continued on to my bunk with Peggy and Ken Gilbert.  Hadn’t seen them in about a year, and it was good to catch up.  Ken and I worked together at American Airlines, and we’re both retired.  We caught up on family and travel (they are intrepid globetrotters, recently returned from Easter Island in the South Pacific).

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U.S. Highway 377 north of Brady, Texas

Up Sunday morning, a slow start with coffee and a good yak in the kitchen, then north to breakfast at the Maple Leaf Diner, dropped Ken at home, and out to the airport.  I had some time, so I motored past American’s corporate headquarters, passing the several buildings where I had worked.  It had been almost exactly 30 years since I pointed the silver Ford south from St. Paul to take up a job with a company that provided so much wonderful opportunity over more than two decades.  I paused to think about the day I crossed the Red River into Texas, October 5, 1987, and drove to the low building on Amon Carter Blvd. to start work.  I drove on to what we affectionately called “Taco Villa,” the vaguely Spanish Colonial apartment complex where I lived for three months before the family moved down.  Headed west to see, from a distance, the huge new headquarters complex that American is building.   Then back to the big airport for the Silver Bird home to Washington and the end of a colossal summer of travel, just some great trips: Vienna, London, Montana, Argentina, the beach, the fair, Up North, back “homes,” and lots more.

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“Taco Villa,” looking the same as 30 years ago!

 

 

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Minnesota, for the State Fair and “Up North”

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A lot of food at the fair comes on a stick; this was a fun effort to get kids excited about numbers!

Whooshed west on Thursday, August 24 for the annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.  As I note every August in these pages, I have not missed the fair since the mid-1980s.  The morning nonstop from Washington left later than in 2016, arrived late, then car-rental snafus, thus I did not get to the fairgrounds district until after one.  It was opening day, and there were no parking places to be found.  Five pals were waiting.  I lucked out, spotting Mary on a bike at the corner of Simpson St. and Nebraska Ave.; she was waving a small round sign that read $20.  Done.  If I wasn’t already way late, I would have chatted with her, for in the first minute I learned she was from Harlowton, Montana, less than 10 miles from where my dad was born.  It would have been a memorable T-t-S, I’m sure!

I walked as fast as my gimpy knees would allow, and was hugging pals in front of the Fine Arts Building about 1:40.  Longtime friends Rick Dow, Bob Woehrle, and Steve Schlachter were there, as was Randy Essell, two-decade colleague from American Airlines making his first visit to the fair (his brother has lived in Minneapolis for years), and a new guy, Jim, a college pal of Steve’s.  We chatted a bit, then headed into the juried show.  For nearly 30 years, we’ve been buying art from the show.  Before leaving, Linda issued strict instructions: no more landscapes.  I concurred, because we’ve got plenty of lovely country scenes from all over Minnesota, from Lake Superior to wheat fields in the drier western reaches.  Not three minutes inside, I spotted a wonderful pastel, titled “City Garden,” and sent Linda a pic from my iPhone.  We walked the rest of the show, but there was none nicer than the pastel, and I bought it (patrons collect the art after the show; I typically pick it up from the artist, so I can meet him or her).

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Arms folded: two other works at the art show, a multimedia work and an acrylic painting

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“City Garden,” soon to hang in our house; at right, Mary, an art show volunteer, affixes the little red dot that means the work has been sold

The fair itinerary has been fixed for many years.  After the art show, we headed for the Creative Activities building to be dazzled by the broad spectrum of crafts, hobbies, and pastimes, everything from folk art to fine woodworking to needlepoint to dill pickles (we marveled at the many different categories: dill with garlic is in a different group than dill without garlic!).  As always, we thought briefly about smashing the glass doors and sampling the cookies, pies, and cakes, especially the mixed berry and peach pies from a Duluth woman – blue ribbons for both.  Avocations are alive and well in my homeland.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous in the Creative Activities building: the sweepstakes winner in knitting and a flying pig (who also was on skis, being a Minnesotan).

Stop three is the horticulture building, and in our zeal to slake our thirst at the stand of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild we missed the giant vegetables, crop art, and other charms.  But the beer stop was a lot of fun, a chance to yak about our summer travels, a bit of politics (well, Rick and me), and more.  Refreshed, we headed for the stands of two ultra-popular fair foods, deep-fried cheese curds and roasted sweet corn.  Yum.

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The group: Steve, Bob, Randy, Rick, Jim, and your correspondent

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We toasted these friendly hockey players (one of whom took our group photo), to be married on December 15

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Roasted sweet corn is one of the huge — and relatively healthy — State Fair treats; at right my friend Steve tucking into an ear.

Last stop were the animal barns.  Looking back, I wished we had slowed a bit, but Rick and I managed a nice T-t-S with Caroline, a fourth-generation Minnesota farmer, recently graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in ag sciences, as well as shorter chats with several 4-H kids showing their rabbits, pigs, and cattle.  I stroked a number of animal heads and faces, even a bristly Yorkshire hog, quietly whispering thanks to God and to them for the gift of domestic animals.  And as I did the previous month with ranchers Ed and Bev, I thanked a woman hog farmer for what she did.  She started to tear up.  Not enough city people either understand or recognize their hard work.

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Caroline, from Waseca, Minnesota, and her year-old crossbreed ewe, who has already given birth to the lamb at right.

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More of God’s critters: a 4-H service dog (every old person said, “Awwww, Lassie”), and goat siblings

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The true last stop was one more beer and some more chatter on park benches, then a brisk walk with Randy back to my rental car.  He needed a ride to dinner with a friend, and because we had some time, I drove him through familiar St. Paul neighborhoods, even past 1032 Goodrich, our very first house.  Dropped him at an eatery near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, then zipped west to the home of Rick and Murph Dow in Edina, the suburb where I grew up.  I had not seen Murph for two years, so it was good to catch up.  We three had a good yak, some pizza, and off to sleep before ten.

Up way early, did some consulting work for an hour, had a cup of coffee and another yak, and hugged them at 7:35, motoring across familiar ground to the apartment of Marlys Chase, my fair buddy Steve’s mom, who I’ve known for more than 50 years.  Mrs. C. kindly agreed to make us a full breakfast, plus more good chatting.  She is 87 and still going strong, half Norwegian and half Swedish – the Scandinavians live a long time, whether in the old world or the new.  Said goodbye at 9:30, motored north to the pleasant Linden Hills neighborhood for another cup of coffee, with friend-since-1967 Jim Grandbois.  We had not seen each other in six years, and it was good to catch up.  I think of Jim each morning when I sit down to work, because before getting into real estate, he and his brother were furniture makers, and the keyboard sits on a still gorgeous parquet walnut table made in 1979.  Thanks, Jim!

At 11, I pointed the rented Prius toward “Up North,” as Minnesotans call it.  Motored north on U.S. Highway 169, around the huge Mille Lacs Lake, and northwest to Crow Wing County and the cabin of another long (since 1963) friend, Tim McGlynn, on the north shore of Big Trout Lake.  Tim and I immediately fell into the substantive yaks that I’ve enjoyed for years.  He’s very well informed, and we share a world view about the market economy (good and bad), politics, and more.  Just as I plopped down for a short nap I heard the wonderful cry of the loon, one of the definitive sounds of Up North.  At five, we jumped into his boat and headed east and south through a chain of lakes to beer and dinner at Moonlite Bay.  That part of Up North is filled with people from Edina, and we met a number of old pals there.  Lots of fun.  Headed back, read for a bit, and clocked out.

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On Swanburg Lane, the road into Tim’s cabin

Woke in the middle of the night to light rain, which continued for the next 30 hours.  Drove through the wet Saturday morning to breakfast in Crosslake with former Republic Airlines colleague George Rasmusson, one of the funniest people I know.  As expected, by the end of the meal my stomach hurt from laughing.  We got caught up, and reminisced about our times at Republic.  I reprised one of the jokes he told me in January 1986 – that I could still tell it as he did 31 years earlier says a lot!  The wet scrubbed plans for a long bike ride.

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Left, Big Trout Lake from my bedroom; right, the McGlynn cabin from the dock

Spent late morning and all afternoon at the cabin, which had been custom built in 2016, a lovely place.  Tim’s older son Patrick was there with his new wife Molly, and we had a nice visit.  Took a nap, yakked some more with Tim about the current state of the world, and at five motored eight miles to the Norway Ridge Supper Club, a wonderful old place.  Tucked into my second Up North meal of walleye, Minnesota’s famed fish (though nowadays restaurants typically source them from Canada), and more good chatter.  Tim is a quality guy, and there’s never much silence.  Best topic that night was the corrosive role of private equity firms.

Up at dawn Sunday morning, still raining, though lightly.  Ambled down to the dock to listen to the loons, then back up to the cabin, hugs to Molly, Paddy, and Tim, then breakfast: leftover fish and potatoes from the night before, fulfilling my objective of three walleye meals in my homeland.  Into the car for a zippy drive back to the Twin Cities. I was back in my hometown of Edina by 11:05.  Motored west on 66th Street, across Richfield, retracing a route we took on bikes 50 years earlier, riding out to see the planes take off and land at MSP.  Just before the airport, I stopped to pray thanks at the grave of my dear dad in Fort Snelling National Cemetery.  I held the headstone tightly.  It would be impossible to express enough gratitude for our freedom.  Flew home.  Such a joy to be in Minnesota.

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Thanks, Dad.  And thanks to Russ, Roy, William, and countless others.

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Kiawah Island, South Carolina, with Family

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On Sunday the 13th we departed for what has become an August vacation tradition: a week on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, one of the loveliest resorts in all the world.  Arrived Charleston at 4:30, grabbed a minivan and zoomed 35 miles to the island.  Stop 1 was the supermarket for breakfast and lunch fixings, then to a lovely house on Glossy Ibis Lane.  Linda was at the American Bar Association annual meeting in New York for three days, so we unpacked the van and I zoomed back to the airport to get her.  Whew, lotta fast moves.  Drove back at a slower pace, and stopped for a late dinner and some beer.  Slept hard that night.

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The week, now the eighth trip to the beach, is formulaic, and at dawn every morning I’m out on a sturdy one-speed cruiser, riding along the bike paths and empty lanes that spread across the island.  About 20 miles every morning, to start the day with blood pumping and an opportunity to marvel at the fertile wetland ecosystem. It’s a place teeming with all kinds of life: deer (plentiful), bobcats (rare), water birds like egrets and pelicans, and lots of alligators.  Less visible, down in the water, are crabs, fish, and more.  It’s such a cool environment.

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Several times that week, I thought about the comfort that familiarity brings, and specifically about a traditional vacation venue like Kiawah.  Indeed, 50 years earlier, in 1967, my parents, sister, and I made our last visit to Greenwood Lake Lodge, a place in northern Minnesota we had visited almost every summer for about a decade.  The two places were forested, well-watered, and teeming with wildlife. Pine trees and deer were common to both.  Up north were bears, not gators; loons, not egrets, and birches, not magnolias.  In a changing world, the familiar is soothing.

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The gentle whoosh of the wind through the pines: a sound from 1967 in Minnesota, and 2017 in South Carolina; below, our cabin at Greenwood Lake in 1960, and our Kiawah lodgings

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Jack arrived Wednesday morning, adding to the fun.  Days were relaxed, save for the dawn bicycling.  Our house had a small pool, which likely made us even lazier: we could put on swimsuits, open a door, and jump in.

We got ambitious Thursday afternoon and motored into Charleston, one of the nation’s most interesting and historic cities.  Spent a couple of fascinating hours at the South Carolina Aquarium, then, again hewing to tradition, ate dinner at Hominy Grill, a simple place renowned for the dishes of the “Low Country.”

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The aquarium has fish, of course, and lots more!

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Boiled peanuts (top) and pickled okra, Hominy Grill

Out on the bike on the last morning, Sunday the 20th, Linda texted me that our 11:30 a.m. flight home was canceled.  Rode back to find that we were rebooked on a flight six hours later.  So headed out again.  Back home, showered, time to take Dylan to the island’s small nature center.  She loves science, as does her grandfather, and we spent a pleasant hour admiring a couple of small gators, frogs, and especially the turtles.  We watched four turtles, which she named, for at least 30 minutes. “Their interaction is so interesting, Pots,” she said.  Indeed.

 

Drove into Charleston at 11:15, lunch at the Wendy’s near the airport.  I wanted to spend a few hours poking around the city, but the ladies decamped at the terminal, so I dropped them and zipped into town.  Parked the car on Pitt Street near the College of Charleston, and spent an agreeable wandering slowly down Pitt (it was seriously hot and humid), then back on Coming St.,  In the courtyard of the college’s student union, had a nice T-t-S with Peter, a longtime international banker who now lives on Hilton Head Island, 90 miles southwest.  He and his wife have been there 20 years, and are thinking of decamping for someplace less crowded.  A good yak, including some nice honesty on his part: “You know, Rob, a lot of bankers just aren’t that smart . . .”  That was a nice opening for me to agree.  He’s keeping busy in his retirement by restructuring banks, mainly in the Middle East.

The National Park Service wrote, “It is no accident that Charleston, South Carolina, is a locus for the modern preservation movement. For nearly 100 years, generations of Charlestonians have been aware of this city’s singular sense of place. Since the turn of the 20th century, individuals, organizations, and government have established and promoted a preservation ethic. The roots of preservation run deep. In 1783, Charleston established itself as a municipal government with the motto: “She guards her customs, buildings and laws.”  Amen to that.  Keep on it, Charleston!

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Hopped in the car and motored right into downtown, King Street.  Spotted a parking place on a side street, woo hoo, and ambled along King.  My beer radar spotted the Charleston Beer Works, and zipped in for a cold one and some air conditioning.  Refreshed, I drove back to the airport, turned in the minivan, met up with the family, and flew home.  A swell week.

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Art in Charleston Airport

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Early August: Always Buenos Aires

 

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Experienced tango dancers, San Telmo, Buenos Aires

A day after returning from Montana, I began teaching an intense, weeklong course at Georgetown, one of two each year at.  Finished the grading on Monday, July 31, and the next afternoon flew to Dallas/Fort Worth for a connecting flight to Buenos Aires and the South American Business Forum (SABF), the student-run conference I’ve helped with for more than a decade.  On the “Skytrain” shuttle between DFW terminals I was again reminded of the powerful “mixing” role flight plays in the world: within six feet of me were six New Americans, immigrants from Panama, India, and Pakistan.

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Landed in Argentina on Wednesday morning, out the airport door, and into the car of Damasia Jurada, member of the 2015 SABF team.  That she took time off from her new job (as employee #4 of a financial-services startup) to pick me up at the airport speaks volumes to the commitment of the growing SABF “family.”  The rush-hour drive was relatively quick, but long enough to cover a range of topics – Damasia’s new job, her boyfriend, the importance of family in Argentina, the accomplishments of the country’s new, center-right president, and more.  At the Hotel Waldorf, SABF digs for more than a decade, I greeted Sergio at the front desk and a bunch of students and organizers in the lobby.  It was good to be back.

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Got my room, took a shower, and at 11 met friend-since-1986 Rick Dow, like me totally committed to the conference – it was my tenth appearance and Rick’s fifth.  We had a cup of café con leche  and reviewed his presentation for the next day.  Took a quick nap, grabbed a late lunch, and at five plunged into the first event of the conference, a get-to-know-you session at the host institution, the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires (ITBA), a small university that is like the MIT of Argentina.  Rick and I plunged into the crowd and met youngsters from Argentina and across Latin America, plus India, Denmark, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and more.  Enormous talent and youthful idealism in abundance.  We were pumped for the start.

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Rick bantering with participants at the SABF kickoff event

At 8:30, we met a Sofía Fraga and Lucas Diaz, conference alums, for dinner at El Establo, a simple restaurant 200 feet from our hotel – on previous visits Rick and I had a beer at the bar, but never a meal.  Time for the first ribeyes and Malbec of the visit, plus some great discussion.  Sofía works for the new government’s energy-conservation initiative, and Lucas, known as Luqui, is, like many ITBA kids, working a startup with a promising idea.  We had a great yak – as we chatted, I was reminded that experienced old guys like Rick and me have a lot of sharable experience, plus the ability to ask potent questions.  Remaining relevant in old age is a gift for which I thank God every morning.  At 10:45, Rick and I delivered what has become a SABF tradition: cheerleading with the current organizing team.  They were running on adrenaline, and Rick and I were there to salute and enourage them on the eve of the forum.

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Main course (minus potatoes and salad) and close-up of a traditional Argentine dessert (mild white cheese and a jellied confection made from sweet potato)

Thursday morning, and we’re into the conference.  The 2017 organizers tweaked the formula a bit, and instead of one theme, the forum had three: challenging identity, the reality gap (fake news and such), and empathic design.  Three plenary speakers briefly addressed each theme – 15 minutes or so, then time for student comments and questions.  As in every previous plenary, the day went quickly, and as valuable as the formal sessions were, lots of good yakking happened during the breaks and at lunch.  It was past 7:30 p.m. when we processed to the traditional dinner venue, El Figón de Bonilla.  A week earlier, Rick and I tracked down a participant from the 2016 forum, and invited him to join us for dinner.  Pascal Menseh, originally from Ghana, had a fascinating life story, and we wanted to reconnect.  Also at our table was Tania from Russia, Pedro from Brazil (studying at the University of Notre Dame), and Rodrigo from Argentina.  It was a lively meal.

Friday was given over to breakout sessions of various kinds.  I peeled off after lunch to begin drafting my closing remarks, then Rick and I returned to the forum in late afternoon to do “mentoring sessions” with six or seven participants.  The youngsters were headed to dinner and a (undoubtedly noisy) party, so Rick and I fashioned the gramps’ plan: an agreeable beer on Rick’s 9th floor balcony, and a mile walk old to Sottovoce, an Italian place we visited for lunch in 2015.  Our mezzanine table afforded a fine view of the main floor dining room, glimpses of a convivial neighborhood place where friends and acquaintances hugged, kissed, and bantered animatedly.  “What a country” was a common refrain from the two of us.  Before turning in, we stopped back at El Establo for a nightcap at the bar, and had a nice “dual T-t-S” with two guys across the bar, who were drinking liter mugs of beer and tucking into serious meat.  Turned out they were ice skaters working for a Disney on Ice production; one Canadian and one Brit, late 20s, totally enjoying a nomadic life.

Saturday morning, Rick and I did not head to the forum, but hopped on the subway and rode west to the Las Flores neighborhood to attend a remarkable event.  Two days earlier at the plenary, Rick and I chatted with Nathalie Stevens, a retired cosmetics executive who had opted to “make a difference” with her remaining years.  She organized La Fundación de los Colores (The Colors Foundation), a nonprofit that trains women from the city’s poorest neighborhoods to become make-up artists, to build the skills and capacity to support themselves and their families.  And the project does much more: it gives women who often did not have a mirror at home to build an identity, a sense of self.  During our chat, Nathalie invited us to attend a graduation ceremony, so of course we went.

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Art on the glazed tiles of the Lima subway station

During the forum, a recurrent conversation centered on the need for all of us to get outside our familiar social zones.  When we arrived at the ceremony, in a reception room of a small university, Rick and I crossed a bridge, to stand with and to celebrate the achievements of people much different than we – but similar, too, in that the three graduates all understood that learning was the key to a better life.  At the end of the ceremony, Nathalie placed the foundation’s distinctive tri-colored pins on our jackets, and we felt so honored to wear them.  It was a proud day for the graduates, and we were happy to help them celebrate their new identity, and their new skills. With those skills, it will be possible for them to earn more money, and to secure greater dignity and human purpose.

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My Colores pin!

We hopped back on the subway into the city, past the pink presidential palace, and back to ITBA, lunch, and, for me, a small airline crisis – a participant from Morocco did not have proper documentation to transit the U.S. on her way home, so I swung into action, working with longtime American Airlines colleague, Gonzalo, who manages AA’s Buenos Aires operation.  In the “can do” fashion that has always set airline people apart, once we connected by phone he had a solution sorted out in two minutes.  On to the next task, a joyous one, to deliver brief remarks to parents and friends of SABF organizers.  In previous years, I was only able to chat with a handful, in my poor Spanish and some English, but this time the speakers’ coordinator, Guillermina, asked me to deliver remarks to a group of about 30.  It was great fun.

My last job, as it has been for the last five forums, was to deliver a summary and closing remarks, an assignment I truly enjoy, helping to end the event on a high note.  After a lot of clapping at the very end for each of the 20 conference organizers, Rick and I hugged a lot of people, then slipped out for a beer in Puerto Madero, a former port area with renovated brick warehouses and new construction.  At eight, we met Christoff Poppe, United Airlines’ country director for Argentina, and headed for what has become a traditional end-of-conference dinner.  We tucked into steaks at La Cabrera in the Palermo neighborhood, plenty of Malbec, and a lot of great chatter.  Two former airline guys and a current one, and there was plenty to discuss!

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Puerto Madero, one of the shiny parts of Buenos Aires

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Master of the grill, La Cabrera

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Sketching at mealtime: left, Christoff illustrating the distinct design of an Argentina meat grill, sloped to drain the fat, thus preventing fire; right, sequence for Luqui’s and Franco’s startup

Sunday breakfast was with a young Australian interested in the airline business.  Rick and I then zipped by taxi to the San Telmo district south of downtown, which bustles on weekends with a flea market, street entertainers, and more.  At ten, we met Luqui (from three days earlier) and his business partner Franco, for a coffee at the historic Café Dorrego and some further discussion about their financial-services startup.  Rick has had tons of recent experience with new firms, and I chimed in from time to time.  We peeled off and roamed the neighborhood for a few hours, pausing for lunch outdoors.  High point was listening to Cien Pájaros, an energetic quartet of accordion, fiddle, and two guitarists.  Way fun.

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Last stop was the La Boca neighborhood, home of the Boca Juniors soccer team.  Walked around the stadium, La Bombonera (literally “the chocolate box,” because if its shape).  There was no game that day, so the place was more a shrine.  We ambled then up and down streets of Boca, a mix of gritty and touristy.  Hopped a taxi back to the center, grabbed a coffee right on the broad 9 de Julio thoroughfare, picked up our bags, jumped on the bus to the airport, said goodbye, and flew home.  Rick is an agreeable travel pal and has become an anchor of the conference – we’re lucky to have him.

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Scenes from La Boca, above and below; lower right is a mural commemorating those seized during military rule, 1976-83

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AlmostHome

Homeward

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Across the West: Oregon to Montana, “The Last Best Place”*

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Cousin Betty Jean Hackman on the Castle Mountain Ranch, where she lived until age 12

 

On Saturday, July 15, I flew to Phoenix (first time at the splendidly-named Sky Harbor Airport in 23 years) and on to Medford, in southwestern Oregon.  It was so wonderful to fly over, and then be back in, The West.  Looking down on the endlessly varied landscapes, I was slack-jawed, mouth agape.  I was once again smitten with the region.

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Scenes from the dry West: northeastern Arizona, irrigated valley, the edge of Phoenix

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Like an atomic bomb: this cloud was part of an isolated cell that visited torrential rain on Arizona; remarkably, the latent energy in these clouds is equivalent to that from a nuclear blast. Nature is powerful.

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From the wetter West: the Sierra Nevada after a snowy winter; Lake Tahoe at left, and Mount Shasta

My brother Jim and sister-in-law Pam welcomed me to Oregon, hugs and kisses.  It had been way too long, eight years, since I had been out to see them.  On my first visit in 1999, I thought it was scenic.  A decade later, 2009, it seemed more beautiful, and as we descended and drove from the airport I thought it lovelier still.  Gentle, green-clad mountains, vineyards, golden fields and grass.  It’s a Mediterranean climate, hot and dry on summer days and cool enough to open the windows by 9 pm.

We made fast for Frau Kemmling’s Schoolhouse Brewhouse, a German restaurant in a former (1908) school in Jacksonville, a town of about 2,500 six miles west of Medford (which has about 200,000 in the metro area).  J’ville, as locals call it, is a pleasant historic mining and timber town, which began with gold fever in 1851-52.  We sat in the beer garden and had some brew, a nice meal, and a lot of splendid talk.  My brother and I had been talking about a road trip to our father’s Montana roots, and it was about to happen.  We were bouncing up and down with excitement.  Drove a few miles south to their wonderful house in the country, climbing 500 feet in elevation.  Ate a cookie and promptly fell asleep just after nine.

Up before sunrise the next morning, downstairs for coffee, then a good yak with Jim and a pancake breakfast.  Helped Jim clean the gutters, then hopped in the car, down the hill for a walk around town, starting in the historic Jacksonville cemetery, and on through some pleasant residential areas.  Back home, I did another chore, trimming the merlot and syrah grapevines in his terraced back yard (each fall he harvests a few pounds of grapes).  Ate a light lunch, took a nap, pretty much chilled in preparation for two long days of driving.  We had a couple of beers on the patio, and Pam brought out some family photo albums, which were great fun.  I can relate to her late parents: mom Bea was a stewardess (as they were called back in the day) on DC-3s, when she met dad Paul, who Western Airlines hired in 1952 and kept on until mandatory retirement at 60 in 1995 – 43 years of flying, the last ten or so after Delta bought WAL.  Had a lovely meal of pasta and salad, walked the yard a bit, and was asleep early, so excited to be heading on the road.

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Scenes from the Brittons’ backyard: doe and fawns, laurel bark, a tiny vineyard

I kept telling Jim and Pam “You’re so fortunate to live here,” but every time I made that remark it failed to register.  For locals, there’s no comparator.  But there is for me.

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Hummingbirds at dinner; Jim and Pam feed lots of winged friends

Up before six, cup of coffee, nice cooked breakfast (thanks, Jim!), then out the door at 8:30.  The day 1 drive was long but wonderful, 520 miles through a range of landscapes to Boise, Idaho.  Started out climbing a pass over the Cascades and into the Klamath Valley.  We stopped briefly at the Running Y Ranch, a lovely planned development on the south shore of the huge Klamath Lake.  Jim showed me the wonderful building lot Pam and he bought, and on which they hope to build a house.  Really cool place.

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One of the only clear snaps from two days of driving: Mount McLoughlin in the Cascade Range

A little detour: as a geographer, I have long enjoyed snapping photos along the way, but my brother, although also a geographer, seemed to want to make time, so, alas there are almost no photos to post on the blog from two days of driving across spectacular country.

We skirted Klamath Falls.  I thought once you were east of the Cascades you were into flat country, but we rose and dropped over at least half a dozen mountain passes as we headed east-northeast.  And there were spectacular sites, like the huge Lake Abert and the Malheur River Valley.  We crossed the Snake River and entered Idaho, onto Interstate 84, and into Boise.  Jim booked a room right at the Boise Airport, figuring I’d like the sounds of nearby jets.  We were worn out, and, happily, a basic eatery was right across the street.  Ambled across, tucked into a big meal and a local brew, and clocked out.

Up Tuesday, out the door, back onto Interstate 84 southeast to Mountain Home, quick breakfast, then east on U.S. Highway 20.  Again we were climbing passes and descending into irrigated green valleys, across southern Idaho, through Arco, past the Idaho National (nuclear) Laboratory, around Rexburg.  That day and before, I was reminded many times that in the West water is everything; folks in the well-watered Eastern part of the nation – including lots of leaders in Washington – fail to understand that basic reality of life.

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Roadside spring near West Yellowstone, Montana

Just past noon the jagged “teeth” of the Tetons poked out of the eastern horizon.  Started climbing, up and up and into Montana just west of West Yellowstone.  So I could gawk, Jim drove the last 90 miles to Bozeman, down the spectacular Gallatin River Valley.  We were in our motel room by 4:15, showers, relaxing after another 460 miles.  An hour later, we were out the door and across a splendid college town (Montana State University) to the Bozeman Brewing Company, the city’s oldest craft brewer (since 2001!).  Had a great T-t-S with John, the taproom manager, and tucked into a pint of splendid IPA.

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At seven we were at the front door of our cousin Betty Hackmann (nee Britton, b. 1945), who I had not seen in more than half a century.  She showed us around her house, which brims with her art and that of others.  Enjoyed a nice dinner and the start of catching up, as well as learning from her recollection of Britton family history.  It got complicated early on: in 1918 our ne’er-do-well paternal grandfather Albert abandoned his wife and four kids (Betty’s dad Harold, then 16, Constance, 14, Mildred, 8, and our dad Clifford, 4).  Constance stayed in Montana, but about a decade later grandmother Florence, Harold, Mildred, and dad moved east to Sioux City.  Harold soon returned to Montana and the other three went on to Chicago, where they were able to move out of poverty and into some modicum of comfort.  We’ve lost track of Constance, but Harold went on to manage a big Montana cattle ranch (more on that in a moment) and more.  It was a great evening.

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Cousin Betty in her basement art and photo studio

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Uncle Harold, fearless bronc rider, 1922

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There’s a reason they call Montana “Big Sky Country”!

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Our motel “beacon”

Wednesday, July 19, was as full and wonderful a day as I’ve had in a long time.  Jim and I were up by seven, breakfast, and back over to Cousin Betty’s.  I hopped in Betty’s big Ford and Jim followed behind, motoring north out of Bozeman into the Bridger Mountains toward Betty’s hometown of White Sulphur Springs, seat of Meagher (pronounced “Marr”) County, population 900.  First stop was the cemetery, to see the graves of Uncle Harold (1902-1975) and Aunt Dorothy (1909-2001).

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The Bridger Mountains, above and below

 

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Just before 11, we introduced ourselves to Bev Fryer, co-manager of the Castle Mountain Ranch, the huge spread that Uncle Harold managed from 1932 to 1957, and that we last visited in 1956.  More than six decades later, memories of that visit are still fresh in my mind: the cookhouse where we ate with the cowboys, Bertha the cook, fearlessly riding a horse at age four (the last time I felt confident on one), and more.  The low hills above the ranch were just as I remembered.

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On the ranch, 1956

 

We learned a lot about Bev and Ed that day.  They were both from the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in south-central Montana, and had been ranchers since graduating from Montana State in the 1970s.  Their first jobs sounded spare, working on a ranch called the Flying D, south and west in the Gallatin Valley (Bev referred to those years as “BB,” and I immediately grabbed the reference – CNN founder Ted Turner bought the spread and they were there before Ted’s bison).  They had been at Castle Mountain for 20 years.

We hopped in Bev’s red Suburban and headed out for a look around just a small part of the ranch.  Bev told us they tended 3000 cows and 1500 yearlings across tens of thousands of acres.  Although they’ve made “modern” improvements in irrigation, watering, hay cultivation, and such, old-school practices remain: they still use draft horses for winter feeding (“saves on fuel and they always start on cold mornings,” said Bev).  Several hundred elk roam the ranch, and Bev was proud of their stewardship of those majestic wild beasts.  Paying off the remark above about lean years early in their marriage, she said “back then, when we were young and starting out, we hunted elk, it was our only meat.”

We caught up with Ed, who was running a very cool hay-bale stacker.  When you’re putting up winter forage for a big herd, you need lots of hay, and we watched Ed drive a Stinger hay stacker and mover, lifting enormous bales that weigh 750 pounds and are equal to the 10 smaller bales I remember stacking when I worked summers on the Kellys’ dairy farm in Wisconsin.  Ed motored the Stinger toward us, parked, and we met.

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Above and below: scenes from Castle Mountain Ranch

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Critters

Bev, Ed, Betty, Jim, and I headed into White Sulphur Springs for lunch.  Ed’s first choice was packed, so we drove on to the Branding Iron.  Ed and Bev knew lots of folks in for lunch, and Betty said hello to a few.  I reckoned it would be disloyal to order anything other than beef, and I tucked into a wonderful hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and lots of rich gravy.  We yakked about a lot of stuff, including the Fryers’ two boys, one still on the ranch, and the other not far away after many years of working in Geneva and Shanghai for Cargill, the grain trader and processor.  Like my late Wisconsin farm friends David and Katherine, these were people rooted to the land, but wordly, too.

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Bev and Ed Fryer; next time you tuck into a burger or steak, tip your hat their way!

For the three days that we were in farm and ranch country in three states, I kept thinking about the hard and precarious life of people who work the land.  I have long understood and respected them – a perspective more city people and politicians need to embrace (for just a glimpse of that life and work, take a look at this video of winter on the ranch).  At the end of the meal, I looked Ed in the eye and told him how thankful I was for what he and Bev did every day.  As expected, he was modest, and thoughtful in his reply: “Well, Rob, we are grateful for consumers like you; we need you as well.”

After lunch, we drove back with Bev to the ranch, and said goodbye.  Jim and I checked into the motel (our home for the next three nights), said goodbye to Betty, and took a short nap.  At five motored into town to the 2 Basset Brewery, a microbrewery Jim found on the Internet.  What a place!  In no time we met co-owner Barry Hedrich and his daughter Molly, who had just finished nursing school and landed a job in the neurosurgery unit at the Mayo Clinic.   We had a long T-t-S yak with Carter, a retired dispatcher from Montana Rail Link, a mid-size railway in the state.  We enjoyed two pints of some seriously good beer.  And of course we asked Barry and Molly about the brewery namesakes, Leroy and Stanley, learning that they don’t much like to visit in the heat of the afternoon (we met them two days later, in early morning).  Refreshed, we drove back to the Branding Iron for a light dinner and clocked out early, way tired from a splendid day.

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Happy scenes from the 2 Bassets Brewery

We “slept in” until 6:45 on Thursday morning.  Before breakfast, I ambled around White Sulphur Springs, snapping pictures.  After a bowl of cereal and coffee at the motel, I walked a block to the Forest Service office and met Nancy at the desk.  She provided ideas for our day, and we set off, north on U.S. Highway 89 and into the Little Belt Mountains to Memorial Falls, a splendid small cascade in the woods.  It was a short, easy hike to the lower and upper falls, through beautiful forest.  Back in the car to WSS (as locals write it), quick sandwich lunch, then in the car again.  We refueled at the Conoco, where Gerald washed every window on the car not once but twice.  As we gassed up we yakked a bit, and got a reco for dinner that night.

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Houses in White Sulphur Springs: fancy (“The Castle”), comfy, and in need of work; below, scenes from town and Memorial Falls

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We headed west, soon on dirt roads, 18 miles to Gipsy Lake in the Big Belt Mountains (Nancy from the Forest Service suggested it, an easily accessible mountain lake).  We hoped for a trail all the way around, but could only go about one-fourth of the way.  Still lovely.  Back down the hill, and into town.  Jim took a nap and I headed to the tiny county library to try to do some research on the “old days,” but there were no references, and the heavily tatted young librarian (I was hoping for an old timer who really knew stuff) pointed me to the Meagher County Historical Society in the old house known locally as “the Castle” (it was built in 1905 by the Donohoes, second owners of the Castle Mountain Ranch).  I met volunteer Helen Dupea, told her a little about the family, especially Uncle Harold (who she remembered), but they didn’t have anything helpful.  She suggested the clerk of Meagher County, so I stopped at the courthouse, but the friendly young woman only had records for land ownership, and water and mineral rights.  Back to the motel, shower, and on to beer at the 2 Bassets.  WSS is a small place: Helen was there, as was Nancy from the Forest Service!  Enjoyed a couple of pints, then motored south to The Roadhouse, which Gerald from the Conoco recommended.  Jim and I both tucked into a walleye dinner.  On the way out, we spotted Gerald and thanked him for his guidance!

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On the way to Gipsy Lake (below)

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Montana wildflowers

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Splendid taxidermy in the Meagher County Courthouse

Four days into a flawless trip, we hit a small snag Friday morning.  After an amble around town, which included a stop at 2 Bassets to meet Leroy and Stanley (Barry was brewing, the hounds were paddling around the tasting room), we headed south to Ringling, a shrinking burg that was once on the main line of The Milwaukee Road (a major Chicago-Seattle railway, now part of either the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, BNSF, or the Union Pacific); the Milwaukee’s main line through Ringling was long gone, and we worked hard to spot the former right of way.

After a two-minute drive around town, we set off for our morning destination, Maudlow, where dad and sibs lived with our grandmother until moving east.  The dirt road was bumpy, our map was not that detailed, and even though I had a GPS signal on my smartphone, I reckoned we were lost about 10 miles southwest of Ringling.  So we turned around (we later learned we were headed the right way, deep sigh), back north.  At the intersection of U.S. 12, a major east-west road, we headed west, across the Big Belt Mountains, for lunch in Townsend.  It was a well-kept town, seat of Broadwater County, right on the Missouri River, which was flowing north toward a huge reservoir and Great Falls.  Great burger, nice chat, then north a mile to the river for some pictures.

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On the road to Maudlow

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The Missouri River at Townsend; Lewis and Clark paddled here in 1804

Back in White Sulphur Springs, I dropped Jim for a nap and headed to the self-service car wash to clean the dust off his car.  I worked up a thirst, so stopped at the historic Stockman Bar for a cold one; it was right across Main Street from the 2 Basset, and the Stockman had their beer on tap.  The place was echoing with decades of cowboy voices (the celebrated Montana novelist Ivan Doig spent time there with his dad, and wrote about it in his autobiographical essay This House of Sky), plus a beautiful carved-oak back bar with columns and mirrors, just way cool.

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At this point, it’s probably redundant to write that Montana was fertile ground for my Talking to Strangers impulse; here are three vignettes from Friday:

> With Ethan, 19, son of the current owner of the Stockman. I gave him our brief family story, and he remarked that his uncle is current county sheriff.  Made me wonder: would he have hired Uncle Harold?

> With Ernie and Alice Bachsler a couple hours later at the 2 Basset.  Ernie’s dad emigrated from the ethnically German part of Romania in 1919, stowed away on a ship, and somehow made his way to North Dakota, south of New Salem.  Ernie and Alice moved west to Seattle with their five kids, and after retiring moved to Montana – “much better weather,” said Ernie.

> With Dale Luchterhand, known as Red, who I met after dinner (found the best place to eat in town, the Bar 47), when I ambled up a side street to take a picture of The Castle.  Dale was yet another memorable fellow, a former Wisconsin dairy farmer squeezed out, cowboying in Meagher County since 2006, and about to head off to Dillon, in southwestern Montana, to learn bootmaking.  Whew!

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Dale Luchterhand, cowboy

We were up before six on Saturday morning, into the car, and south on U.S. 89, then west on Interstate 90, across the Yellowstone River, over the south end of the Bridger Mountains, and into Bozeman.  First stop was to retrieve my iPhone charger at the motel where we stayed Tuesday (smooth recovery from a senior moment Wednesday morning); then for a short stroll on the tidy, compact campus of Montana State University; then to the Nova Café on Main Street to meet Jim’s long pal Boone, friends since the late 1970s.  Through the years, Jim often spoke about Boone, cyclist, inventor, entrepreneur, original-thinking architect, and nice fellow.  He was that and more.  We had a great chat and a fine breakfast.  Last stop before the airport was a quick detour to Cousin Betty’s to meet her beloved Dwain, just back from a week of backcountry adventures on his ATV.  Jim had met Dwain previously (he has a daughter in Oregon), but I had not, and it was fun to yak with him, albeit briefly.

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On the campus of Montana State University: “Old Main,” and the College of Engineering; below, Main Street, Bozeman

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Dwain and Betty

At 11:45, Jim dropped me at Bozeman airport.  Kisses and hugs, and hugs again.  It had been, as Jim predicted months ago, an epic trip.  Better than epic.  As we approached the terminal, he said it was one of the best weeks in his life, and I agreed.  Through the years, we’ve not been as close as we should have been, but that week we were close.  I waved goodbye with tears in my eyes.

Bozeman airport was teeming with tourists.  At the security checkpoint, I spotted a last “you’re in Montana” image: signs noting that bear spray was prohibited beyond the screening area!  The flight to Chicago was seriously late, and I missed my connecting flight to Washington.  The experienced traveler always has a Plan B, and after we took off for O’Hare I mapped it out: a United flight into Washington Dulles.  Thanks ro onboard wi-fi, I fixed up a standby ticket on United.  Sprinted across the vast ORD terminal complex and made it to the United gate 20 minutes before departure, but there was a snag (long story, about travel privileges for employees of other airlines) and the gate agent could not give me a seat.  Plan C was executed: two hours in the Admirals Club until it closed at 10, then 6 hours of sleep on a bench outside the club entrance (I slept fairly well, raincoat over me to darken the light), back into the club when it opened at 4, a bit more sleep, a shower, and a 6:55 flight home.  A minor bump at the end of a wonderful journey back.

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* Montana writer William Kittredge coined that apt description in a 1989 anthology of stories and essays from the state.

 

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The icy waters of Memorial Creek give new meaning to “chilling”!

 

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